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Bathing in bacteria
May 22, 2014 7:03 PM   Subscribe

Spray on some friendly bacteria and skip the soap? (NYT) Plenty of people have tried the 'no-poo' method to switch from shampoos, but what about skipping everything, and adding some bacteria instead? We bathed without soap for a long time and antibacterial soap is really bad for us. AOBiome wants you to think Bacteria is the New Black.
posted by viggorlijah (112 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
My husband sent me this link because I have experimented with no shampoo etc. My first reaction was basically all-caps vomiting because the thought of spraying on bacteria makes me retch from childhood indoctrination. Against this, I will happily let my kids play in mud and eat food off the floor if the dog hasn't gotten to it first. But spraying bacteria on seems like an uphill battle against social disgust.

How long though until there are celebrity-branded biodomes? Get Bieber's Bacteria!
posted by viggorlijah at 7:05 PM on May 22


One of the moderators at Boingboing is into no-soap. He casually mentioned he's also a yoga instructor. I'm sure that's a fun time for the front row in class
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:12 PM on May 22 [13 favorites]


I think anti-bacterial soap is totally unnecessary for general use, because your hands don't need to be truly sterile unless you're doing surgery. Excessive washing with regular soap is probably bad for your skin as well; but giving soap up altogether doesn't seem like a more sanitary option. The idea that not using soap is more "natural" seems like a thing to feel good about and little more, unless you have an idiopathic problem with soap products.
posted by clockzero at 7:13 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Unless you're a surgeon about to stick your hands in a living person's body you have no business using antibacterial soap.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:13 PM on May 22 [10 favorites]


I want to believe this so bad, actually, what with the success of stool transplants. But the probability for fad craze is also very high. What to do!
posted by Halogenhat at 7:15 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


"My first reaction was basically all-caps vomiting because the thought of spraying on bacteria makes me retch from childhood indoctrination."

To borrow a line; if that's true, you're going to shit when you learn anything whatsoever about how the inside of your body really works.
posted by mhoye at 7:15 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Trust me, no surgeon sticks their bare hands into another person's body.
We still use lots of antibacterial soap though.
posted by maryrussell at 7:16 PM on May 22 [9 favorites]


Huh... so there's an intermediate step to going from shampoo to no-shampoo. And that intermediate step seems to be baking soda/vinegar. I'm very tempted. The move to crystal body deodorant has been positive for us... I may actually give this much a shot anyway.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:17 PM on May 22


Antibacterial soap was prescribed for a skin infection in my family and cleared it up super fast. But now we have this big blob of soap that no-one wants to use (it smells like floor cleaner). I feel like I should set it on fire or cover it in mud or something to balance out the radiating sterility of it.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:17 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Get Bieber's Bacteria!

Old school here, I'm still saving up for 'N Sync with a hint of David Lee Roth.
posted by vapidave at 7:18 PM on May 22


I hate to say it, but I avoid soap and shampoo as well, unless I'm going on a date with my wife (I do wash my hands frequently).

I find that most shampoos except for Head and Shoulders give me terrible dandruff, while most facial soaps dry out my skin. I do shower every day, and take care to wash myself with water. It seems to work in that no one (my kids or wife) complains that I smell.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:22 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Did you hear about the mathematician who had trouble with the concept of 'no-poo'? He eventually worked it out with a pencil.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 7:24 PM on May 22 [8 favorites]


i feel like there could be a better term than 'no-poo'
posted by empath at 7:24 PM on May 22 [9 favorites]


i called it "gross itchy scalp rash that bleeds when i brush my hair plus a sexy grease spot on my pillow" but ymmv
posted by elizardbits at 7:25 PM on May 22 [26 favorites]


I've been primarily no-shampoo for more than 10 years now. I wash my hair with just water, scrub my scalp with my fingers to exfoliate and remove dirt, and condition, but I don't use shampoo because it turns me into a frizz monster with ridiculously damaged hair. Every time I get sick, though -- like the kind of sick where you have to see a doctor or spend two days vomiting -- I have to wash my hair with shampoo after because I just don't feel psychologically clean if I don't. (Also after traveling on airplanes I feel icky unless I shampoo my hair.) I use baby shampoo cut with water. My hair still looks terrible for days afterwards. People comment frequently on the health and beauty of my hair. Good friends who find out I don't usually use shampoo are always surprised. But my hair is very, very dry. If my husband went no-shampoo it'd be a disaster.

I still use soap, though. Because fingers touch a lot of gross stuff, and also food.

(But you know what really needs to be cleaned and/or nuked from orbit? The bottom of your purse. The bottoms of women's purses are as gross as doctors' ties. YICK.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:38 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


I'm so glad this ended up on the blue, because I have so many questions.

I can buy that the bacteria take care of body oils and smells, but what about the sooty grime that city air deposits on everything? What about hand washing to avoid the spread of disease? What if you work in an industry where you get splattered with muck or oil on the regular?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:38 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


You do know that antibiotics won't work forever?
posted by Ironmouth at 7:39 PM on May 22


I actually have a very expensive customized showerhead that allows me to bathe in hepatitis C every morning.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:43 PM on May 22 [25 favorites]


I plan to be dead before all antibiotics stop working and I don't really care what happens after that.
posted by elizardbits at 7:44 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


In passing, I recall a test given a group of women. Using very expensive shampoos (bottles coded but without labels), the favorite turned out to be liquid soap used in the kitchen for doing dishes.Dr George Sheehan, known as The Running Doctor, had a theory that there were two kinds of sweat: sweat that gave off a bad smell and was caused by fear, and non smelling sweat that came by way of good exercise. A friend, after a 5-mile run with the doctor, noted that he now knew firsthand that the theory was wrong.
posted by Postroad at 7:44 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


Evidenceofabsence, I think you can scrape it off with oil? The thing is that you have skin, multiple layers of skin growing and renewing, so whatever the grime is, if you remove the top levels of skin for several days, you will get clean. I have done this for some horrible sticky stuff (medical bandaging and gunk) and it worked so much better than repeated soap or detergent.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:45 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Despite my lack of Nubian heritage, I use African Black Soap, and it is just great for me, as I have very sensitive skin.

Now if only I could find something gentle and natural and inexpensive to clean up my horrible seborrheic dermatitis, I may once again look like a real human bean.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:47 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


No soap is a bridge too far, but I am very intrigued by no shampoo. I do this already, every now and then--basically when I remember to. I have a dollar store silicon scalp scrubber, and I rub my scalp really thoroughly under the spray. Then I put on conditioner--if I don't, my hair looks pretty greasy and whacked out, even if I've scrubbed it a lot. The conditioner takes care of that, but I do have to use a lot more conditioner if I've not used shampoo, don't know why.

But baking soda and vinegar...that's a pretty simple fix. And this being summer I'm gonna get a short short short haircut next time anyway, so this is a no brainer.

As for the soap thing, though...seems like your BO is a lot more dependent on your diet. If you healthy, natural food and avoid processed sugars and the like, I think that has as much impact on BO as soap (or lack thereof).
posted by zardoz at 7:47 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I've been no-poo for ~3 years, & my stylist can stop complimenting me on how natural & healthy my hair is.

Still wash my hands w soap, just not the AB stuff.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:49 PM on May 22


I want either custom bacteria for my body OR some sweet-ass nanomachines scrubbin away.
posted by zscore at 7:50 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I can buy that the bacteria take care of body oils and smells,

But why, though? Why would bacteria do that? What interest do they have, so to speak, in a body being or seeming clean and nice-smelling?
posted by clockzero at 7:52 PM on May 22


this is an interesting concept. I think the real problem is that americans like myself think that smell = nasty instead of normal. No bandaid is going to fix that.
posted by rebent at 7:55 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


There is definitely a scent difference between bad sweat and good sweat though, although perhaps not for all people as sweaters or as smellers. Kind of like the asparagus pee thing maybe.
posted by elizardbits at 7:59 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I haven't (regularly) used soap in the shower for years, 20 or more probably.
No one, not my wife, not my friends (who would definitely tell me), nor coworkers have ever complained that I smell.

I do use soap to wash on rare occasions (dealing with ground-in dirt, camp smoke, after using chemicals), but most of the time, I skip it.

The only time I've gone shampoo-free is while at a lake cabin, which isn't really a fair test. I recall my hair getting kind of lank and grimy, but my hair is a lot shorter now, maybe it would work better.
posted by madajb at 8:06 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I did the vinegar thing when I still had hair and loved it. There was a brief period where it was a little oily because my body had to readjust to me no longer stripping it all out with soap, but pretty quickly it normalized. After that it seemed less dry and shinier, but at worst was exactly the same without me having to pay for shampoo and conditioner.

Never could bring myself to call it "no-poo" though.

regent is right about the US with the bathing thing, though. We have no tolerance for fragrance.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:07 PM on May 22


This is all fine until you get a wound of almost any kind. The bacteria that live on us aren't meant to be in us, and lack of soap is a major fact in death rates before we used it regularly.
I'm not advocating for AB soap, but soap in general ca be a very good thing when it comes to wound treatment, and hygiene around immune-compromised folks.
posted by dbmcd at 8:08 PM on May 22 [19 favorites]


Let me tell you friendly bacteria is way more pleasant than asshole bacteria.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:08 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


exactly, Mr. Encyclopedia... without soap.... how do you clean your butt?
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:11 PM on May 22


For the past some 20 years I have not used any sort of deodorant, colognes, or much of anything else on my body for that matter. In fact during the winter I take only a shower about every 10 to 15 days and in the summer maybe every 8 to 9 days. The only soap I use is a natural home made goats milk soap ( I make it myself). My wash soap is borax. On the rare occasion I need to "smell nice" I have a nice Italian powder that I use. In fact both genders have asked "what are you wearing" or "you smell nice" I just smile.
I do this mainly to save money and to not to clog the pores of my skin. On the flip side my sense of smell has changed. I am VERY aware of how others smell. I use the example of a theater or an airplane. Being in a closed environment all the chemical odors are at times overwhelming to me. Put me in a medium space room with a few people and I can call out the tide, gain, degree, dial......
posted by robbyrobs at 8:15 PM on May 22 [5 favorites]


I am able to go no-poo (technically co-poo, as I didn't wash but did condition every day because I had to wet my hair to deal with the catastrophic bedhead of short hair) until my hair gets about 5" long, and after that I need some kind of detergent to actually get my scalp clean. I now have 14"-long hair and use a Sulfate-free cleanser that actually lathers, but mostly on my roots. I have thick textured curly hair, which means this mileage will vary for people with thin straight hair.

I also edge into and out of systemic MRSA. When some part of me is trying to go rogue (armpit and groin are the most likely culprit), I have a bottle of anti-bac hand soap that I wash with there. The rest of me gets no cleanser some days, SLS-free cleanser (currently Lush's Flying Fox, because I am addicted to honey-scented cleaner) some days, and my susceptible bits get store-brand acne facial cleanser (I switch back and forth between Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid, just make sure you don't get the stuff with menthol in it holy shit do not put that in either your groin or your armpits) twice a week.

So what I'm saying is, to each his or her own. Do what works for you. Back down from what works for you until it stops working and use what is sufficient. Unless you are immunocompromised it is unlikely that you need nuclear-grade decontamination every day.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:22 PM on May 22


Here's why I'm inclined to hope this pans out.

A: I mentioned above my experience w/ No-Poo hair care; nothing but success w/ that route. Mrs. PBZM got a haircut today and our stylist was gushing over how healthy her hair is. "You should be a hair model!"

B: Cunnilingus & pH. Specifically Sweet Spot Labs (unscented). Tl;dr - a lady's "sweet spot" when pH balanced is healthy and inimical to all manner of negative "cooties". And most soaps throw the vagina well out of healthy pH.

SSL is the cunning linguist's DREAM bc it works by going the "Healthy and happy is also tasty and fragrant and inviting" route, rather than just perfuming things.

So yeah, that's two strong ✓s in the "Work with the natural system rather than against it" column so far.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:22 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


All the people who are claiming they don't use soap and "nobody has complained about how I smell":

Please take into mind how difficult and embarrassing it would be to tell someone they smelled bad.
posted by mokin at 8:39 PM on May 22 [39 favorites]


Just as a dissenting voice for anyone thinking no-poo sounds wonderful from all the rave reviews, I tried it for a year when I had short hair and it did not. work. at. all.

My hair was either greasy, or crunchy. The only positive aspect was I didn't need any hair gel! Just slick it back naturally. (This was also during my all natural no-deodorant stage, so I also smelled bad. What a treat.)

I followed blogs, tried everything they said, nothing worked. My favourite part was how anyone I asked just said "Well I guess you're doing it wrong." Isn't that convenient?

This was my life lesson on never trusting the internet.
posted by Dynex at 8:42 PM on May 22 [9 favorites]


Mokin - Yes, exactly. Thankfully I have a good friend who is never concerned about being too brutally honest, so I didn't develop a reputation.
posted by Dynex at 8:44 PM on May 22


Please take into mind how difficult and embarrassing it would be to tell someone they smelled bad.

No doubt.
In my case, I have several very old friends that would have no problem letting me know I'm rank.

My wife, well, she married me, so if I do smell, it is clearly a clean, manly odor that speaks to my virility and overall masculinity.
posted by madajb at 8:54 PM on May 22


But I like soap! I like washing my hair! It feels good.
posted by rue72 at 8:55 PM on May 22 [10 favorites]


(But you know what really needs to be cleaned and/or nuked from orbit? The bottom of your purse.

Ever wash your cell phone?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:57 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I followed blogs, tried everything they said, nothing worked. My favourite part was how anyone I asked just said "Well I guess you're doing it wrong." Isn't that convenient?

YES PRECISELY, not one single fucking no-poo proselytizer I knew was willing to even entertain the slightest most remote most miniscule iota of possibility that perhaps, maybe, just maybe, it doesn't work for everyone and that is okay. It's fucking okay that it works for you, pooless evangelist! I am so happy that you have found this thing that works for your hair and makes you enjoy the way it looks. But it doesn't work for everyone and when people decide that it's just because we were too stupid to figure it out well then dammit all if I don't get real stabby real fast.
posted by elizardbits at 9:01 PM on May 22 [23 favorites]


So I have the kind of fine, straight hair that basically nobody wants. No matter what I do to it, it looks weird and kind of undone, but in more of a "not getting invited to the eighth grade dance" way than the "edgy and artfully mussed" way.The best way I've found to deal with it involves keeping it pretty short. I can appreciate the appeal of no poo (which really is the most godawful term), but as my hair looks like I'm auditioning for the role of "Skid Row Junkie #3" if I skip shampoo for, like, 48 hours. I'm pretty sure it is not for me.

Also, I like pretty much any excuse to get in the water, bath-related or no. And in fact "little to no opportunity for hot baths" falls very quickly behind "High probability of getting raped/murdered/burned at stake" and "Smallpox" on my shortlist of reasons I have no interest in time travel.
posted by thivaia at 9:09 PM on May 22 [12 favorites]


Dynex: "Just as a dissenting voice for anyone thinking no-poo sounds wonderful from all the rave reviews, I tried it for a year when I had short hair and it did not. work. at. all."

It doesn't work for my husband at all; his hair and skin are generally much, much oilier than mine, and if he doesn't shampoo it becomes rapidly noticeable and icky. My hair is very dry, and shampoo strips it of what little protective moisture it has. Also I don't do anything terribly dirty, I live in an area with fairly clean air, and I shower quickly after a sweaty workout ... sometimes when I'm in a smoggy urban area my hair gets grosssss of a sort of gross only shampoo can remove. So, you know, it varies based on hair, and it even varies for people with similar sorts of hair who have different lifestyles. I don't run around evangelizing for it -- clearly it doesn't work for everyone! -- but if you're not happy with your current hair regime it might be worth giving it a go and seeing if it works. If it doesn't, try something else!

the man of twists and turns: "Ever wash your cell phone?"

I have preschoolers; if I don't wash it, it doesn't work, because of all the PB&J fingerprints impeding the touch screen. Also I can't stand the Cheerio dust trapped between the case and phone. *shudder*
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:11 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


It's super weird though because the higher the altitude, the less of a greasebag I am. Clearly I should have never left the altiplano and could at this very moment be a gloriously bemaned llama herder in a fanciful hat.
posted by elizardbits at 9:18 PM on May 22 [12 favorites]


"No-poo" is not a good abbreviation.
posted by squinty at 9:21 PM on May 22 [3 favorites]


Did you hear about the mathematician who had trouble with the concept of 'no-poo'? He eventually worked it out with a pencil.

Hey that's my material from an old math jokes MeFi thread. Don't mangle it like that.

When I was a kid, my dad would only buy locally produced Castille Soap. You ever shower and even wash your hair and face with strong lye soap? I did that for years. It's not for use on your body, it's laundry detergent, you boil your clothes in it. My dad grew up in an Old Order Amish family and they made their own lye soap, and by god if it was good enough for me, it's good enough for you. This was a constant source of friction between my father and my mother (who advocated on behalf of her children being allowed to use regular soap). Eventually he relented and we could use real body soap. So you can pry my bar of Irish Spring from my cold, dead hands.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:23 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Now that it's over 80 degrees outside, it's My House Smells Like Feet season, so I am going to continue to encourage soap usage, at least by the smelly male contingent of the family.

I actually don't use much soap unless I've been working out, but going no-shampoo would require taking a week off from work or getting permission to wear hats while my hair adjusted--assuming it would do so--because otherwise I would look like I combed my hair with Crisco, which isn't a good look for me.

Doesn't washing with vinegar make you smell like vinegar? I do not want to be That Weird Girl That Smells Like Salad Dressing or Maybe Pickles at the office.
posted by emjaybee at 9:31 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Discussing the roman method of oil, strigil exfoliation and then immersing in hot water.

The vinegar smell evaporates quickly from skin. After about 5 minutes, you can't smell it at all.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:34 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


No, the vinegar odor doesn't really linger. I don't bathe with it but we have really hard water so I spend a lot of time washing dishes, nozzles, glassware, and laundry in vinegar to remove hard water stains and the smell is usually gone from my hands by the time they're dry. It also doesn't stick around on the laundry or dishware or whatnot once you rinse the vinegar off. I just use Heinz white vinegar in the huge jug, nothing fancy. (I go through rather a lot of it.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:36 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


I used to use vinegar, because it did good things for my hair's texture. My boyfriend was nice about it (though he didn't like having the vinegar bottle in the bathroom), but the very first time my dad saw me after I'd started using it he told me straight up that I needed to stop because it smelled.

Also, it bleaches your hair in the sun over time, like lemon juice will. My hair is very dark brown/black, and it started turning more and more auburn after a few months.
posted by rue72 at 9:39 PM on May 22


emjaybee - Yes, I absolutely smelled vaguely of vinegar when I tried no-poo. You had to get close, but it was there. (Again, thank you honest friends.) I tried using less vinegar and that's when my hair got crunchy.
posted by Dynex at 9:42 PM on May 22


When I was in the Peace Corps (and after, when I was doing similar work in other countries), I worked with a bunch of people who were too poor to ever bathe in anything other than water, pretty much their entire lives. Without finding some no-contact tribe in the Amazon, this was as close to no soap and definitely no anti-bacterial soap, as well as no deodorant, as you could ever find.

They smelled. They smelled strong. Not chemically bad, like when someone wears too much perfume, but more sort of barnyardy. It's not actually a bad smell, but it was a very natural smell; there's no doubt that we are animals under our veneer of humanity.

All my hippy friends who didn't use any product and insisted that they smelled great? They smelled, but not great, and more chemically than the people I just mentioned.

My wife, well, she married me, so if I do smell, it is clearly a clean, manly odor that speaks to my virility and overall masculinity.

Pheromones maybe? My wife likes my smell when I'm sweaty and unwashed, but anyone else is going to just say "Ew, stinky!"
posted by Dip Flash at 9:48 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]


clockzero: ... unless you have an idiopathic problem with soap products.

I'm not sure what you're implying here, but I've met idiopath several times and he's never smelled offensive at all!
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:48 PM on May 22


in more of a "not getting invited to the eighth grade dance" way than the "edgy and artfully mussed" way...looks like I'm auditioning for the role of "Skid Row Junkie #3"

Thank you, thivaia, for giving me two new and awesome ways to describe my shitty thin hair.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:53 PM on May 22 [11 favorites]


I use soap for my hands but sure to an allergic reaction to some stomach medications pretty much have to take, am almost always soap and shampoo free in the shower.

Despite the skepticism, I smell fine. I mean goodness, it's possible wash yourself with water alone quite effectively, but you can't just stand there like a lump, you do have to actually wash.

I think this is probably more or less difficult depending on quality and composition of your water. I can see why people who are used to especially hard water might be skeptical. I usually shower twice a day.
posted by smoke at 10:05 PM on May 22


I hope everyone here likes bacterial cells, because there are more of them in your body than your own!
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:10 PM on May 22


Stinky!
posted by ReeMonster at 11:01 PM on May 22


I'm mostly in the same boat as robbyrobs. I had a friend compare me to the the narrator in Rant. In a crowded elevator, I can tell you which woman is ovulating, which man doesn't wash his hands, who drank too much last night, who loves garlic, who rides a motorcycle, who is a dog owner and who is a cat owner, who had their nails done, and who has a fever.

I can smell people. It's my x-man power. But I bet most everyone can do it too, society has trained it out of us for the sake of good manners.

I love smelling people, but the smells that people use to cover their smells are pretty awful.

When I go jogging at the park, I can tell what laundry detergent a sweaty person uses from 10 meters away. Tide, Gain, All, Fab, Wisk, Surf, Chlorox, Downy, Snuggle, Bounce... I know them all, they all have their own bright, sweet, floral substitute for actual clean. It's a masking smell to cover up other smells.

It's the difference between a having a unique thriftshop handbag and the same dumb fake Louis Vitton handbag everyone has. If I smell a product and not a person, it doesn't make you smell better.

If people are really bathing in baking soda or vinegar, I haven't noticed but it would be an improvement. The artificial perfumerey is so much crappier, more artificial, and obvious than the alternative. Organic, artisanal palm oils, plus vanillaroma flavors from a lab in New Jersey, plus armpit funk is no better than plain armpit funk, regardless of how much you paid for your masking scents. If we're close enough to have a conversation, I can still smell you, plus whatever you've layered on top of it.

Myself, I just scrub down daily with Ivory soap and hope for the best. You probably think I'm the one who smells funny.
posted by peeedro at 11:27 PM on May 22 [10 favorites]


Pheromones maybe? My wife likes my smell when I'm sweaty and unwashed, but anyone else is going to just say "Ew, stinky!"

As good an explanation as any.

We've been together for 20+ years though, I'm not going to mess with success. heh.
posted by madajb at 1:23 AM on May 23


Self discovery is a wonderful thing. One thing I know about myself: I am a reeker. If I spent a week in the woods sans soap you could smell me a mile off. Forests would defoliate.

Daily shower for me. Plus, good soap! Who doesn't like the smell and feel of a nice bar of soap?
posted by maxwelton at 1:38 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


As interesting as it is to consider skin care that doesn't involve any soap/shampoo, are people actually taking this so far as to not wash their hands with soap anymore? Doesn't have to be antibacterial, but - no soap? That cannot possibly be good - as a matter of fact, health organisations have a huge job convincing people in poor, rural areas of the world to use soap at all, but when they succeed in getting their message through it literally saves lives. This piece on interventions in India was a real eye-opener to me.

Plus if you really want to catch the flu, the best way is to hang out in public spaces, touch things and then not wash your hands with soap. Or is that no longer a thing if bacteria protect you? (Attack bacteria would be awesome!)
posted by harujion at 2:25 AM on May 23


The vinegar smell evaporates quickly from skin. After about 5 minutes, you can't smell it at all.

That's because your smell receptors are saturated; not because it's gone. After 5 minutes in a room full of mercaptans, you can't smell them either. The vapor pressure of (pure) acetic acid is in the same order of magnitude as water at normal temperatures. If you have fine, short, buzzed hair, it may very well be gone after 5 min with a vigorous towelling. If you have long, thick hair, it will linger just as long as water will, which can be a very long time.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 2:31 AM on May 23 [13 favorites]


Please take into mind how difficult and embarrassing it would be to tell someone they smelled bad.

And how. I worked in an office years back where one of the temp workers, a slightly hippie type young woman, smelled pretty strong. It was only if you were close to her that you could tell she just didn't bathe, but it wasn't a big office, and we moved around a lot. So it was a surprising thing at first, but after a while became a real problem for a few people. But no one could gather the courage to say anything to her directly. I remember trying to broach the subject indirectly, like turning the topic of conversation at lunch to showers and bathing somehow. Nothing worked.

I think people just kind of forgot about the smell after a while, they got used to it. Hippie Temp left after a while, and no one ever said anything about it.
posted by zardoz at 2:51 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


I've met several people who claimed that they didn't need deodorant for whatever reason (diet, crystals, etc.).

They were all wrong. Source: my nose.

I imagine the no soap crowd are likely similar.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:51 AM on May 23 [5 favorites]


I imagine the no soap crowd are likely similar.

Or you could possibly accept that humanity is a wide and diverse beast and trust members of this community that their experiences are valid and they know what they are talking about when it comes to their own bodies and you know, not be prejudiced and patronising.

I mean come on people, it's like plastic surgery; you only notice when it doesn't work. You could be interacting with people regularly who don't use soap and you would never know.

I shouldn't need to mention but apparently do how much of this distaste and the idea of a norm is culturally constructed. It's funny, the pockets where oh so liberal mefi reveals its homogeneity.
posted by smoke at 3:29 AM on May 23 [6 favorites]


Some people are just less stinkier than others, e.g. apocrine sweat glands. (Which may explain why deodorant use is not widespread in Korea and where to buy deodorant seems to be a common question for Western expats in Korea.)
posted by needled at 4:15 AM on May 23


guys guys i've given up cigarettes and cut my caffeine intake by at least 2/3 not giving up the body wash, okay? having my skin smell like flowery cashmere crap is one of the few pleasures i've got left
posted by angrycat at 4:41 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


a lady's "sweet spot"

(her futon)
posted by Greg Nog at 4:55 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Whenever I have a new girlfriend, she always asks what I use to get such soft skin. I've been an anti soap person for 26 years now so the answer is "nothing". The only time I use soap is when there's visible filth I want to remove and I've never used Purelle or any other of those gels that are everywhere these days.

Saying I use "no soap" is an exaggeration, but not a huge one. I do use deodorant, though, and shampoo maybe once every 10 - 14 days.

Interesting that baking soda is recommended. My dog got hit by a skunk a few days ago and baking soda mixed with dish soap and hydrogen peroxide was what was used to deskunk her. Worked perfectly.

Who doesn't like the smell and feel of a nice bar of soap?

I think the smell and feel of a bar of soap is pure nastiness. Occasionally I'll be behind someone on the streetcar who just reeks of soap. Gag-inducing.
posted by dobbs at 5:47 AM on May 23


I am having trouble discerning whether some of the comments in this thread are sincere or if they are just bone dry satire.
posted by Think_Long at 6:06 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


Soap and water. Plain soap and water is effective. Soap is a surfactant, water removes the soap. Plain soap and water mechanically removes as much bacteria as you would need to care about.

I've been in the no deodorant/no antiperspirant camp my entire adult life for a few reasons: (1) antiperspirants don't work well enough to matter (2) deodorants are cover up only (washing removes it) and gum up my hirci (I knew I'd be able to use that word someday!). If I smell strongly/badly it's because I either need to wash or I'm sick (or both).
posted by plinth at 6:35 AM on May 23


But....I love showering! It's one of the most relaxing things I can do for myself! I don't understand when people say they hate bathing.
posted by agregoli at 7:17 AM on May 23 [7 favorites]


Whenever I have a new girlfriend, she always asks what I use to get such soft skin.

hannibalconfessions.tumblr.com
posted by elizardbits at 7:36 AM on May 23 [6 favorites]


As interesting as it is to consider skin care that doesn't involve any soap/shampoo, are people actually taking this so far as to not wash their hands with soap anymore? Doesn't have to be antibacterial, but - no soap? That cannot possibly be good - as a matter of fact, health organisations have a huge job convincing people in poor, rural areas of the world to use soap at all, but when they succeed in getting their message through it literally saves lives. This piece on interventions in India was a real eye-opener to me.

Plus if you really want to catch the flu, the best way is to hang out in public spaces, touch things and then not wash your hands with soap. Or is that no longer a thing if bacteria protect you? (Attack bacteria would be awesome!)


I'm sure your close friends would tell you if you were pestilential
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:49 AM on May 23


I had a roommate who never used soap. I could never understand why he smelled so bad since he showered every day, and showered for a solid 20 minutes at that. Showered every day, still smelled terrible. Just this horrible, overpowering oniony body smell that never left. He never had any shampoo or soap in the bathroom but I figured he just used mine (since he used all of my everything else in the apartment), and it wasn't until I actually took all of my stuff out of the bathroom that I realized, nope, he just doesn't use soap.

He'd hang around our apartment all day in his boxers (he worked from home) just smelling up the place. He ruined (ruined) a brand new couch. The thing still smelled like him after he moved out, after being sprinkled with baking soda and vacuumed up, after being dragged out on the back porch to soak in the sunlight. I ended up having to give away a year-old sofa on craigslist because it smelled so bad. (Girl who came to pick it up was like "this couch looks brand new! why are you giving it away?!?" and I thought, oh, maybe it's just me, maybe she doesn't smell it, maybe this is all in my head. And then she got closer to it to figure out how the pull-out bed mechanism worked and said "oh. OH GOD" and did that thing like dogs do where they sort of reverse sniff while shaking their heads. She ended up taking the couch and said "well, maybe I'll just let it sit out in the sun all day today." Good luck with that.)

Anyway, the guy never used soap and he smelled awful. House-ruiningly awful.

In related news, today I am wearing cologne that smells like cake and it makes me happy so y'all fragrance free peeps can suck my balls.
posted by phunniemee at 7:57 AM on May 23 [17 favorites]


The problem with many no soapers is the same exact precise problem with the majority of the overpowering musky cologners though. YOU CAN'T SMELL IT WHEN IT'S YOU. YOU FUCKING CAN'T YOU CANNOT YOU CAN FUCKING NOT. You just can't. And 9 out of 10 of your friends, unless all 10 of your friends are me, will not tell you.

i will always tell you. always.
posted by elizardbits at 8:08 AM on May 23 [12 favorites]


I want to believe this would work for me and give it the ole college try, but I have a deep-seated fear of being one of those vegans if I did. Because I love the idea of being more DIY, but I don't wanna be EWW.

So what I am saying is: Lush products, I will never forsake you.
posted by Kitteh at 8:13 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


well, thanks to this thread we now know whose balls smell like cake and whose balls don't. Try cataloging that, google!
posted by Think_Long at 8:16 AM on May 23 [5 favorites]


I have been one of the friends who did not tell. I've had friends who insisted on trying unorthodox hygiene methods: the woman who didn't shave her legs (it's fine to not shave your legs, mind you, but she insisted that her leg hair was incredibly sparse and light so she didn't have to shave her legs, otherwise she would); the guy who didn't shave his face because he swore that if you never shave for your entire life, the hair never comes in as more than a light fuzz (oh my god he was wrong); so on, so forth. This is why I generally don't tell people - I can be a persuasive arguer, but I'm not stronger than a person's own bias.

The problem really is that everyone believes that they themselves are the exception to the rule.

And maybe some people are, and that's fine. But I'm in favor of erring on the side of safety. If you want to experience a world where no one uses deodorant or washes anything but their crotch with soap, try going to France and getting on a crowded bus on a hot day. Bring smelling salts.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:22 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


well, thanks to this thread we now know whose balls smell like cake and whose balls don't

So...I skipped to the end of this thread and read this. I think I'll just back on out of here. And make a note not to eat any cake any Mefite offers me.
posted by yoink at 8:30 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


My own non-sick and non-medicated smell is pretty mild so I don't bother with deodorant when it's just me and the dog hanging out, but when I go out into the world where the people are, especially in situations where I will be sweaty in a group, like yoga class, who doesn't shower before yoga, nazis that's who, I make sure to always smell pleasant but unremarkable. That means mild soap, frangrance-free deodorant, no perfume.

mindfulness, motherfuckers, do you speak it
posted by elizardbits at 8:31 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


balls smell like cake

And sometimes also ginger ale! Or pie!

As a late-in-life fragrance wearer, here's a (pro?)tip: if your dog reacts to you with anything more than a polite but altogether disinterested sniff, you're wearing too much.
posted by phunniemee at 8:39 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


the overcologner at my office always tries to hug my dog and she just runs away sneezing

it is very satisfying
posted by elizardbits at 8:40 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


I'm a normal-looking middle-aged guy with short hair and an office job.
Last November, I was inspired by a Reddit IAMA with Andrew WK to try out no-poo. It has worked great. Since then, I think that my hairdresser has shampooed my hair more times than I have. I did notice that my hair had a scent to it, but not an unpleasant "B.O." smell; it was something unfamiliar.
(I wanted to confess this in the recent Andrew WK thread, but I chickened out, thinking I was the only one who did it.)
posted by Tool of the Conspiracy at 8:54 AM on May 23


My husband uses soap and shampoo but doesn't wear deodorant. Never has. And he smells fucking terrific. (And has since the day we met; it's not just a pheromone thing from being together for twenty years.) I on the other hand smell like a varsity lacrosse team if I skip deodorant or wear the same bra two days in a row. My own personal odor situation got a LOT better when I quit shaving my armpits, for reasons I don't totally understand; I would have thought it was the other way around.
posted by KathrynT at 9:03 AM on May 23


I had a roommate who never used soap. I could never understand why he smelled so bad since he showered every day, and showered for a solid 20 minutes at that. Showered every day, still smelled terrible. Just this horrible, overpowering oniony body smell that never left.

What was this guy's diet like? I mean, if one subsists on McDonalds, sugar drinks, and potato chips... well, you are what you eat.

That goes for how we smell too,
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:14 AM on May 23


What was this guy's diet like?

Not to be deraily here, but he'd have to have left the apartment to get fast food. Much to my annoyance he only ate what I brought home, which was largely real whole food.

Sometimes people are just plain stinky without any outside help. Which is why some people benefit from outside help to get unstinky. This is why soap is popular.
posted by phunniemee at 9:32 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


Bad breath and body odour can also be symptoms of diabetes and liver disease.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:33 AM on May 23


A fast/processed food (conveniently, not morally pure) diet leads to increased body odour? Is that actually true or is it just "common sense" that people like to repeat?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:44 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


My own non-sick and non-medicated smell is pretty mild so I don't bother with deodorant when it's just me and the dog hanging out, but when I go out into the world where the people are, especially in situations where I will be sweaty in a group, like yoga class, who doesn't shower before yoga, nazis that's who, I make sure to always smell pleasant but unremarkable.

I'm in the same boat - mild B.O. that really only expressed itself in summertime, and was easily tamed by daily application of deodorant crystal (which are not pseudo-science, it's just a novel and less-messy form of a common deodorant ingredient).

Then I started working out in the gym - when it was just the rowing machine and nautilus, no bigs. Mild sweat, the crystal was holding up.

Then I started free-weights.

Oh. My. GAWD. I think I turned the weight room brown that first week, and then I got the strongest deodorant available according to exhaustive research. The next week, I turned it various shades of purple, yellow and pink. The strongest available deodorant is activated by sweat to make you smell like a propane tank exploded at the Yankee Candle.

Then I found Tom's of Maine Unscented, and now I smell vaguely like Froot Loops if you're standing really close. Sorted.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:01 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


I think 'bad sweat' vs 'good sweat' is substantially just about age of the sweat.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:07 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


I've had the experience of stuffing my gi into a backpack after karate practice and forgetting about it for two days. I wasn't looking forward to opening the bag, but when I did, it smelled like the sea. Not nasty, rotting-fish sea smell, but clean salt-water smell.

That's not always the case, though: I've washed off various sweaty bits with a washcloth and tossed it in the tub when I didn't have the time for a full shower, and man, after forgetting about it for a day you could tell before you got to the bathroom door. (And then our younger cat thought it smelled awesome and rolled about on it and peed on it, but he also loves to rub and roll about on stinky shoes and elderly kitchen sponges.)
posted by telophase at 10:20 AM on May 23


You could be interacting with people regularly who don't use soap and you would never know.

It's possible. But so far everyone I've met who *brags* about how they don't adhere to standard U.S. hygiene practices because they don't "need" to has stunk.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:21 AM on May 23 [6 favorites]


Hey, elizardbits, do I smell?
posted by plinth at 10:51 AM on May 23


for reasons I don't totally understand; I would have thought it was the other way around.

I think it's because the hairs wick the sweat away from the skin, lessening sweaty bacterial growth, but I may have just made that up inside my head because it feels logical somehow.
posted by elizardbits at 10:53 AM on May 23


Iirc pubes and underarm hair is there to mask I am food smells from predators
posted by angrycat at 10:57 AM on May 23


YOU CAN'T SMELL IT WHEN IT'S YOU. YOU FUCKING CAN'T YOU CANNOT YOU CAN FUCKING NOT.

Absolutely the first and best thing I learned as soon as I quit smoking: No matter how well you think you're covering it up, people can always smell it on you.

I like perfumes and things--though I'm more into Herbs and Flowers than Straight Up Food smells. I went through a slight scent obsession a few years back when I was trying to pair scents with outfits and ended up with a large collection of sample-sized bottles, which I still love for changing it up. Sometimes when I wear a new perfume I feel like a different person.

As a sidenote: my grandmother has a whole mythology built up around perfume. She believes she can tell almost everything she needs to know about someone by their perfume. For example (as she mentioned recently): "Women who wear too much Chanel No.5 are often sour and cannot cook."
posted by thivaia at 11:22 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


A fast/processed food (conveniently, not morally pure) diet leads to increased body odour?

The food has a ton of refined sugars and a ton of calories that plays havoc on your endocrine system (not to mention your teeth).

It has nothing to do with morality. But if you want to stuff your face with Jack In the Box, that's fine, but let me know when you turn 40. We'll see how healthy you are.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:58 AM on May 23


But does it lead to body odour?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:04 PM on May 23


Please take into mind how difficult and embarrassing it would be to tell someone they smelled bad.

I posted an AskMe some time ago on a topic encompassing this one, and ran into some of this attitude at mentioning the possibility that some people could benefit from curtailing the use of soap. I also note that I was cautious of the idea at the time, but have only been using soap on hands and the fecal zone for years now and it actually helped bring the acne I mentioned then under control. In fact, I break out if I get something on my face that I feel the need to use soap for. Clearly, there are people who won't believe what I say about my own life, but I do not stink at times I should not.

It's interesting that there are people who are so vehement not only that everyone must use soap everywhere or you will stink horribly, but that you can't possibly have any relationships in your life close enough that this could be a topic of conversation.

I don't mean to make the generalization that such strict social dogmatists somehow can't have trusting relationships, but these objections necessarily go together.
posted by cmoj at 12:11 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]


But does it lead to body odour?

Maybe I'm getting mixed up. I've read that diabetes or liver disease or some other disease can cause bad breath for example, as accumulated blood toxins are released through the lungs. But body odour? Not so sure.

Another thing that probably is getting me mixed up is that whenever I eat refined sugars (notably white flour and white sugar, the common ingredients in, say, pancakes or ice cream), I tend to get "floral blooms" in the form of boils on my scalp and the sides of my body. Presumably this is caused by the process refined sugars trigger with the body's endocrine system (boosted insulin).

But do I smell bad? I don't know.

I might add that I certainly use bar soap to wash my hands, but used anywhere else I get dry skin and a rash.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:24 PM on May 23


I use Cetaphil cleanser, instead of soap. Doesn't dry or irritate my skin. It's great not to have rashes or nasty dry skin. Moisturizer never seems to help if I use soap.

My underarms are stinkier if I don't shave.
posted by annsunny at 3:04 PM on May 23


As someone with a shitty immune system, I'll stop using soap when my doctor tells me to.
posted by bile and syntax at 3:10 PM on May 23


Tangential, I guess, but I recognized that I have a really sensitive sniffer when it occurred to me that I know who's been in the women's room before me based on whatever lingering fragrance is there. (I do mean fragrance. Stop it. That wasn't a poop joke.) I could list six people just off the top of my head whom I could identify with 100% certainty.

(But I am pro-soap, for the record.)
posted by mudpuppie at 3:17 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


It's possible. But so far everyone I've met who *brags* about how they don't adhere to standard U.S. hygiene practices because they don't "need" to has stunk.

Welp, thank god the world isn't just Americans you've met, I guess.
posted by smoke at 3:39 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Who doesn't like the smell and feel of a nice bar of soap?

Burn victims?
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:17 PM on May 25


surely they're happy that it doesn't feel and smell like actual fire though?
posted by elizardbits at 11:40 PM on May 25


> Myself, I just scrub down daily with Ivory soap and hope for the best. You probably think I'm the one who smells funny

Yes because Ivory soap is one of the worst possible scents in the world that people willingly apply to themselves (I say "one of" because I've never actually smelled fox urine).
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:36 AM on May 26


Thinking on it, the strongest smell differences I notice are between primarily-meat-eating folks and primarily-plant-eating folks. My bacon-when-not-burger-or-steak palls definitely have a stronger odor than the salad bar habitués.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:02 PM on May 27


Steeping herbs in the vinegar can help reduce the "OMG vinegar!" odor. Based on a suggestion from Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal, I recently tried infusing it with chamomile and lavender. Much less vinegary, much more herbal.

Holy smoke, the book is selling for $84 used? And me with a copy that's probably in good or very good condition… Hm.
posted by Lexica at 7:55 PM on May 27


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